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Delta's partnership with a Saudi Arabian airline led to some controversial reports about people who are Jewish being unable to fly to Saudi Arabia. (Credit: Delta)

In late June, a story claiming Jewish people wouldn’t be able to fly to Saudi Arabia on Delta Air Lines circulated the web.  Poynter’s Adam Hochberg explained that “some stories also suggested Delta customers may be prohibited from carrying religious items except those related to Islam.”

The Economist noted that this story was fueled by “Twitter, blogs, and word-of-mouth.”

But, the story has since been retracted from USA Today and it appears Religion News Service has pulled its story as well.  One major element of the story was debunked by Poynter and The Economist : despite the reports that Delta won’t allow people who are Jewish fly Delta to Saudi Arabia, it turns out Delta doesn’t and won’t fly to Saudi Arabia – instead Delta established a partnership with a Saudi Arabian airline.

The Miami Herald added that “Both Delta and Saudi representatives have denied” the story, but that “a spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, D.C., said that anyone with an Israeli passport will not be granted a visa to the country.”

According to The Economist, it’s not a “new” problem for people with Israeli passports or Israeli travel listed in their passports to “sometimes have trouble obtaining visas for Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern countries.”

And, Poynter’s Hochberg added that while “it is indeed common practice for non-Islamic religious items to be confiscated from travelers entering Saudi Arabia,” it isn’t the result of any action by Delta. Hochberg stated that any religious items taken away are done so by Saudi Arabian officials in Saudi Arabia, “regardless of what airline a passenger arrives on.”

How the Story Started

Poynter ‘s Adam Hochberg explained how the story spread.   According to Hochberg, Delta announced the “alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines” back in January, but the story wasn’t a big deal or controversial until World Net Daily’s June 22 report.

Wolrd Net Daily’s post stated “Delta adopts Saudi ‘no-Jew’ fly policy.”  Hochberg described World Net Daily as “best known for relentlessly pushing discredited allegations about President Obama’s birth certificate.”  (Read here to learn more about World Net Daily’s recent $285 million-plus lawsuit against Esquire.)

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World Net Daily’s editor Joseph Farah told StinkyJournalism via e-mail that the site stands by its story.

From there, stories were picked up by Religion News Service, The Economist, USA Today and others.

Retractions, Unpublishing, Corrections?

The Village Voice noted that USA Today unpublished its story with the note “An early version of this story contained incomplete information and has been removed.”  Village Voice commented that USA Today’s actions make “it possible that [the story] was just a huge rumor.”

Media Bistro’s Fishbowl DC reported USA Today’s executive editor, Chet Czarniak explained that USA Today unpublished its story over sourcing issues.

According to Fishbowl DC, the story was only on USA Today’s site for “less than an hour” before being pulled.  Czarniak reportedly explained that the story “was not a scoop at all” and a “repackaged” story from Religion News Service.

Czarniak noted that since USA Today didn’t add any original reporting, “the story was yanked when specific elements of the article were called into question,” according to Fishbowl DC.  Czarniak stated:

“I wouldn’t say the Religion News Service information was inaccurate. We just felt the item required expanded reporting and lacked the appropriate sourcing for our standards.  It would have been impossible to pull just the unsourced pieces so we made the decision to kill the entire thing until we could advance and verify the story.”

iMediaEthics has written to Religion News Service for comment and will update with any response.

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USA Today Retracts Claims Delta Won’t Let Jewish People Fly to Saudi Arabia

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